Project Management

What really works when planning goes down the drain

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago I was told I have to undergo surgery. It was an older problem I’ve been neglecting. All my plans for the remainder of this year just went out the window: weekends, vacation, sports, like a big Cancel button just got pressed. The question I had to ask myself was: how do I recover my planning? And I took the project management approach to it.

Step 1: Have an objective evaluation of the situation. Many projects end up bad because dust has been swept under the carpet, cosmeticizing reports so that they look good for top management. If you keep on doing that for too long, not even the biggest experts on the planet will be able to recover your plan. First thing you need to do is call things by their names and state exactly where you are, otherwise, you will not know what to address.

Step 2: Call in an expert for a second opinion. Ok, this one is optional, but a fresh pair of eyes can give you a view from a different angle. In my case, that was a second doctor. An “opinionologist”.

Step 3: Decide what can be addressed: scope, budget or timeline. After working for nearly 15 years on projects, I can tell you that no matter what books and methodologies are saying, there is only one variable that truly makes a difference and that is Scope (side note: that’s why Agile delivery works better, because time and budget are fixed, but scope is variable). That’s also the most difficult one to accept you have to change. I will explain why.

Increasing the timeline just increases the agony, because it’s not addressing the fundamental problem in any way. Parkinson’s Law is 200% true: work tends to expand to fill in all allocated time. Add in the student syndrome aka procrastination and you’ll see why adjusting time doesn’t work.

Budget rarely increases. When I say budget, think resources (although in the end everything can be quantified to a monetary value). Nowadays, chances of getting more money for your project are slim. So are the chances of getting a sudden bonus.

When you look at scope on the other hand, that’s where the MoSCoW analysis starts to come in handy. You have the “must”-s that you have to cover and also the “should”-s. The “could”-s and the “would be nice to have”-s can be taken out. That’s what I did in my case as well: I had to keep the musts, I also threw in the should-s and discarded everything else.

When it comes to requirements, there’s a tool (which I haven’t seen anyone ever using): the Kano model. The essence of that model is that if you deliver only “must”-s and “should”-s the level of satisfaction will be… meh. It’s like you would get a car that has just wheels, engine and other basic components, to make the mechanics and electronics of it work. Yeah, it functions… wow… not impressed. To stir a bit of excitement you need to throw in some “could” and “nice to have” sprinkles.

Recovery plans are meant to help you get back on a straight line and keep you going. They are good for damage control and revival, but on the business side of things, they will not get you future signings or contract renewals.

As I pointed out in an older article, when reality changes (and that’s why you start with step 1 above), you need to adapt. Adapt now and adapt faster. Accept the reality, call it for what it is and adapt to it.

Another thing that I recommend, experience-based, is: keep calm and don’t put on your magician hat just yet. The typical reaction I’ve seen in many projects was to start pulling rabbits out of the hat and cards from the sleeve, exhausting all backup plans first and then doing the objective analysis and damage control. I would say take the hit now, fail fast, so you can rebuild faster.

I’m ready to roll out my new plan. What do You do when planning goes down the drain?

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